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Beyond Quadrants and Waves: Assessing Service Provider Approaches to Customer Experience

SP CEM 8 components black textAt Digital Clarity Group, we are often asked whether we compare the companies we cover against each other, using ratings, rankings, or other comparison measures. When we answer “absolutely not,” reactions tend to range from relief to head-shaking disappointment, sometimes paradoxically within the same person. This goes to show how immensely powerful such ratings have become in corporate decision-making, especially when it comes to buying technology. Tech-buyers rely on Gartner’s quadrants, Forrester’s waves, and other tools developed by third-party suppliers to justify their spending decisions to superiors, procurement managers, and other skeptics questioning their technology choices. These tools can be immensely useful used in the correct context, and they would not be so prevalent if they didn’t work.  

However, when you have identified that your organization needs external help with its customer experience strategy, or even just needs to make a technology purchase, and you begin to assess the capabilities and experience of digital agencies, system integrators, technology vendors, etc., these types of direct comparisons can be dangerously misleading.  At best, they will help you identify a short-list of candidates, and at worst they will exclude other candidates that may be more suitable but don’t appear in that key “up and to the right” position.  The most reputable service providers, with the most impressive service portfolios, shelves of awards, and super-platinum vendor partnerships, will be a total waste of your money and time if those providers are not able to identify your particular challenges, where you are in your customer experience strategy (or indeed, help you to define a customer experience strategy in the first place), and show how their approach can help you clarify and reach your goals. We believe this is so important that it is one of the reasons we came together as a company: there is an unmet need for industry analysts to provide pragmatic, actionable advice, not more esoteric models. 

The Eight Core Competencies Explained

Based on our recent research on customer experience and speaking with the buyers, vendors, and service providers that are involved in customer experience initiatives, we have identified eight core competencies that an organization needs to consider if it is to pursue a holistic customer-centric strategy. Even the best service providers do not necessarily enlist all eight capabilities in their project approach, nor should they. This is despite the increasing tendency for service providers to describe themselves as offering “full-service” when a standard market definition of full-service does not exist. Every buyer has a unique combination of needs and will want to identify certain capabilities from prospective partners whose skills complement their own and those of their existing partners.  This may mean using several different providers for different tasks: for example, one company for conducting user research, another for organizational change consulting, and still another for user experience and design. Instead, in our assessments of service providers in our research and consulting engagements, we provide subjective views of how each service provider’s approach emphasizes the eight competencies, so that buyers can fill in the gaps with different partners as needed. Broadly, the eight competencies include:

  1. User research capabilities: market research, ethnographic research capabilities, segmentation analysis, and persona development to help organizations understand their audiences
  2. Technological capabilities for WCM and other CEM technologies, especially as numerous integrations will likely be required
  3. Capacity to advise on and facilitate organizational change within the client’s organization
  4. User experience capabilities, both externally (e.g., web, mobile, and more) and internally for processes that make CEM easier to manage (e.g., software tools overlaying vendor solutions)
  5. Capability in developing and implementing content strategy as well as content writing and marketing in general
  6. Ability to drive overall project and business strategy
  7. Ability to use and draw insight from analytics, such as the incorporation of data and data analysis, use of web analytics, and establishing project metrics and milestones
  8. Ability to create a bridge between analog and digital worlds: for example, incorporating traditional content, such as print publications, and digital content into a single content strategy, or seeing customer channels as including not just digital technologies but also in-person interactions, such as sales employees in stores and repair technicians doing on-premises visits to customer sites

In our most recent research, the Guide to Service Providers for Web Content and Customer Experience Management – Europe, we evaluated each core  competency for 45 service providers using a full, half, or empty circle (also known as Harvey balls). Our choices reflect the extent to which the core competency is emphasized as a fundamental aspect of their approach with clients, based on primary and secondary research.. To see an example, you can download a sample profile from the Guide here (registration required).

How does this assessment fit with what you are seeing in the market? Are there other competencies that are important for a service provider to be able to address? What does “full-service” mean to you?


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